Step 1: Use an experienced interpreter

Always appoint a qualified, professional and experienced interpreter. The friend of a friend who speaks Spanish and has lived in Chile for 6 years is not really your best choice. Even if this friend has a degree in Spanish, that does not necessarily make them a good interpreter. Naturally, it would be convenient and cost-effective to fall back on this friend. However, in court this could lead to inadmissible evidence, inadequate communication or chaotic results. Professional interpreters are qualified linguists who earn their living in this field and know how to work within the guidelines, moral code and due processes of law. You can appoint an interpreter through an agency for interpreting services or you can contact a freelance interpreter directly. The former has the advantage that the translator has already been validated by the agency. However, the appointment of such an interpreter is more expensive. Appointing an interpreter directly is like playing the lottery but is also less expensive.

Step 2: Meet the interpreter

You should, if possible, arrange an early meeting with the interpreter, or, if this is for a trial, arrange a meeting between the client and the interpreter. This will give you more time to talk about the background of the meeting/hearing and review the facts and clarify outstanding issues. This might well result in extra costs but it will be worthwhile.

Step 3: Brief the interpreter

Even if this might mean more work for you, you should always endeavour to provide the interpreter with information concerning the meeting, client, criminal proceedings etc. It is not necessary to provide the interpreter with every single document in question but the interpreter should be kept up to date on the state of affairs. No interpreter will go ‘blindly’ into such a situation, i.e. without knowing who they are interpreting for and why their interpreting skills are required. Indeed, there have been situations where interpreters have declined requests on ethical grounds, or on the basis of an existing conflict of interest. How is an interpreter to know whether they already know a key witness if they are not provided with information about the trial?

Step 4: Forget the interpreter

Always talk to your client or other people involved in the second person and look at them directly. Do not talk to the translator. In fact, you should just try to forget that the interpreter is present. Say for example “Please confirm your name and address” and not “Please ask him for his name and address.” Use simple language. When addressing your client, avoid long complex sentences with multiple subordinate clauses. Avoid humour, idioms, proverbs and the like which would be lost in translation due to linguistic and cultural barriers.

Step 5: Instruct the interpreter

Do not hesitate to make requests. If you feel that the interpreter is speaking too loudly, ask him to speak a little quieter. If they are speaking too quickly, ask them to speak more slowly. If you are not sure whether something was really understood, please ask. This will not be seen as being too demanding - and an interpreter who is worth his or her money will actually appreciate it.

Step 6: Give the interpreter a break

Interpreting is a mentally strenuous activity. You must consider that the accuracy of the translation will decrease with increasing fatigue. If the interpreter is required to interpret for a prolonged period of time, you shouldn’t forget to ask the interpreter if they need a break or agree to a break if they ask for one. If you think that the day might be too long for just one interpreter, you might want to appoint two interpreters who can take turns over the course of the day.

Step 7: Do not rush the interpreter

Keep in mind that interpreting requires a considerable amount of time. In the legal field, interpreting is usually done consecutively, i.e. everything is said twice. In addition, there are breaks or delays to check meaning or clarify statements. You must accept that this will take at least twice as long and you must take this time into account. Rushing through a court procedure or putting people under pressure does not solve problems but rather causes them.

Follow these 7 steps and you’ll soon see that there’s nothing to fear.

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